CULTURE TIP: Room: When the World Shrinks
We meet Room through the eyes of five year old Jack, whose mother Joy was abducted seven years ago, and kept in hiding as ‘Old Nick’s' sex slave. Room is directed by Lenny Abrahamson from an adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel, with astonishing performances by Brie Larson as Joy and Jacob Tremblay as her son Jack. Room is Jack’s only experience of life other than the ‘make believe’ world he sees through their television set. Joy has found relief, sanity and love with the arrival of her son, and has created a fantasy world to make up for their missing lives.
The film is powerful in portraying the rituals Joy carries out; her songs, their creations of toilet roll and egg shell snakes, a cake for Jack’s 5th birthday. “How old is he anyway?”, asks Old Nick, as she fiercely protects Jack from her abuser and his nighttime visits, sending him to bed and safety in ‘wardrobe’.
Jack’s voiceover brings his inner world to life, where ‘squirrels and dogs are just TV’, and his imaginary dog Lucky may come one day. Even the 'screaming game’ they play is invented to communicate with aliens, protecting Jack from the truth of their incarceration. Counting and make believe in ‘wardrobe’ cut out the sounds of Old Nick’s rituals, and afterwards Jack is taken back to ‘bed’. There are ‘good days’, and ‘gone days’ where Joy falls into despair. “Don’t you forget where you got him”, threatens Old Nick, a reality Joy refuses to accept. Her desire to keep Jack from Old Nick triggers his violence, and the daily frustrations of the limits of their lives are conveyed in each frame.
When Nick cuts off the heating to punish her, Joy needs to tell Jack the truth in order to plan an escape, but he struggles to follow the concept of an ‘outside’, of a back yard where ‘mouse’ came from, never mind a whole world outside ‘Room’. “Do we go into TV for dreaming?”, asks Jack, as he begins the painful journey out of an imprisoned cocoon, to a world where people can be abducted and hidden for years and no one can find them. “I don’t believe in your stinky world”, rages Jack, as his voiceover lists the egg snake, the melted spoon, chairs number one and two, plant, toilet and the few objects that make up their world.
Joy’s failed attempt at escape brings immediacy to their danger. The powerful acting and cinematography leaves the audience holding their breath. But how can one ever escape such a trauma, and Donoghue’s script reveals each detail, from the world inside Jack’s head, to the world that blinds him outside, as ‘World’ replaces ‘Room’.
“Are we on another planet?”, asks Jack, who is about to learn another set of rules. Much of what Joy remembers has changed as she begins to process her rage at the lost years, and for the good girl her mother taught her to be, which led to helping Old Nick and her fate. There is a new man in her mother’s life, a father who cannot look at Jack without envisaging her rapist, and photographs of school friends whose lives are safe and uneventful.
“Jack is nobody’s but mine!”, Joy tells a manipulative journalist, as the nightmare of ‘Room’ has an impact way beyond the walls that lead to ‘World’. A powerful exploration of everybody’s worst nightmare, and one requiring a lot of therapy, and a lifetime of healing in order to recover.